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Significant progress was made in 2011 to ensure that CERF continued to be a flexible and predictable source of humanitarian funding, while remaining transparent and accountable. A key management milestone was completion of the Five-year Evaluation of CERF, mandated by the General Assembly, and the Management Response Plan (MRP) to the evaluation. The assessment of CERF’s first five years was positive and the evaluation concluded that CERF had consistently been effective and responsive to the evolving needs of humanitarian partners confronted with sudden-onset or neglected emergencies. The CERF secretariat was also commended for its management of the Fund, including the development of improved processes, procedures and information management. This further enhanced CERF’s responsiveness, facilitated decision-making through the development of clearly-defined life-saving criteria, and reinforced accountability with more transparent information systems and a Performance and Accountability Framework (PAF).

To further capture the operational challenges and lessons emerging from CERF processes in the field, and as a complement to the Five-year Evaluation, the CERF secretariat conducted country-level reviews of the value added of the Fund under its PAF in Bolivia, Colombia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in 2011.The PAF has helped the CERF secretariat measure outcomes against expectations while distilling good practices and lessons learned. The reviews found that CERF is an integral part of the wider humanitarian reform effort, which includes strengthening the role of the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinators (RC/HCs) and the cluster approach. The results of the reviews were released in October 2011.

The CERF Advisory Group met twice in 2011 and recognized continuing improvement in the performance and management of the Fund. It also welcomed the positive findings of the Five-year Evaluation and considered a number of policy issues, including reduction of the CERF loan window to $30 million, the timeliness of CERF-funded activities, and the quality of field reporting on results.

Reporting on results

UN agencies and IOM are required to submit headquarter reports to the CERF secretariat each year. The reports focus on CERF’s life-saving activities in 2011 and provide lessons learned on accessing CERF funds, with analysis of the impact of CERF funds on agency capacity to respond to emergencies. These inputs are reflected in the Secretary-General’s annual report to the General Assembly and help to demonstrate how CERF has fulfilled its objectives of promoting early action to reduce the loss of life and strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in each country.

RC/HCs receiving CERF funds are required to submit annual narrative reports detailing how the money was spent, who benefited from funding, what was accomplished with the funds, and the added value of CERF support. These annual reports focus on identifying the added value of CERF assistance, and illustrate how the Fund has fulfilled its objectives to promote early action to reduce loss of life, enhance response to time-critical requirements, and strengthen core elements of the humanitarian response in each country that received CERF grants. These reports include lessons learned and key challenges in accessing the Fund, which help to ensure constant improvement in CERF’s performance.

The quality of field reports has improved during the five years the Fund has been in operation. The CERF secretariat works closely with Humanitarian Country Teams to finalise the reports, which are then published on the CERF website. In response to feedback from the field, guidance on reporting and templates have been made clearer since CERF’s inception. The timeliness of submitting annual field reports has improved: In 2012, 44 per cent of all RC/HC annual reports were submitted to CERF by the due date of 15 March, while in 2011, only 33 per cent were submitted on time. In 2012, 83 per cent of reports were submitted within a week of the due date, whereas in 2011, slightly more than half (52 per cent) were received within the same time-frame.

The current reporting format and guidance materials are generally well-accepted by Humanitarian Country Teams. For example, the PAF review in Colombia found that UN agencies had become accustomed to the CERF reporting process, which they aligned effectively with their own internal systems. The PAF review in Bolivia remarked that the CERF reporting formats were sufficiently detailed, and UN agencies expressed a high level of familiarity and comfort with the reporting template. At its October 2011 meeting, the CERF Advisory Group acknowledged the effort made by the secretariat to improve the quality of field reporting timelines, but the Group expressed concern about the overall quality of reporting by RC/HCs, and stressed the need to improve the measurement of outcomes. The template was revisited by the CERF secretariat in 2011 to improve results-based annual reporting and gain further insight to the added value of CERF in the field. The new template was used by Humanitarian Country Teams for the 2011 RC/HC annual reports.

The CERF website also provides the latest information on donor contributions, recipient agencies, sector allocations and country recipients. The website makes available evaluations and research studies, press releases, newsletters, feature stories and programme and reporting guidance, and serves as an important repository for RC/HC annual reports.

Policy Developments

The Letter of Understanding (LoU) in effect between OCHA and 14 recipient agencies is based on the revised CERF Secretary-General bulletin (2010/05), which extended the time-frame for implementing CERF rapid response grants from three to six months. The LoU allows CERF to speed up the transfer of funds from the UN Secretariat to recipient agencies and has reduced the time from project approval to funds disbursements. This agreement has proven particularly valuable for agencies that do not have major cash reserves to draw upon.

Over the years, CERF’s loan facility had fallen into relative disuse and accumulated interest caused the balance of the loan window to balloon to $76 million. Based on recommendations from the CERF Advisory Group and the Five-year Evaluation, the loan element was reduced to $30 million by General Assembly Resolution A/66/L.28. 2011 has brought some renewed interest in the loan element. UNICEF in Somalia applied in August for a $5 million loan to respond to severe acute malnutrition, and UNOPS in Libya applied later in the year for a loan of $1.6 million to support mine action projects.

Training and learning

The CERF secretariat reviewed and updated its training and learning materials in 2011. The secretariat collaborated with OCHA Regional Offices on CERF training and learning workshops throughout 2011. Two-day trainings were carried out in Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, Geneva and Nairobi, with some 175 people from UN agencies, IOM and NGOs participating.

The workshops aimed to enhance the understanding of CERF criteria and processes as well as improve the quality of UN agency submissions and reporting. Training was interactive and capitalized on participants’ experience in humanitarian operations and coordination, allowing them to share lessons learned and best practices from the field.

Dialogue with partners

Maintaining dialogue with humanitarian partners is critical for ensuring the transparency, proper functioning and evolution of the Fund. Consultations with agencies and NGOs on the use and management of the Fund take place regularly through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and its sub-working group on humanitarian financing. In addition, CERF secretariat management met with UN agencies and IOM at their headquarters to review operational issues.